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9 May 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:22pm

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn triumphs as he exploits Theresa May’s Brexit woes

The Labour leader made a weak Prime Minister appear weaker still. 

By George Eaton

There was a time when Jeremy Corbyn was reluctant to exploit the Conservatives’ profound divisions. “It’s not up to me to throw in, other than a couple of lines about the government’s in a mess,” the Labour leader said of Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation as work and pensions secretary in 2016.

But the Corbyn of 2018 is a very different creature. At today’s PMQs, he ruthlessly exploited the Tories’ woes and made a weak Prime Minister appear weaker still.

With his first question, Corbyn gratefully accepted the gift provided by Boris Johnson: “Does the Prime Minister agree with her Foreign Secretary that the plan for a customs partnership set out in her Lancaster House speech is in fact ‘crazy?’”

The questions that followed were similarly well-scripted. Corbyn observed that the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, had rejected the customs alternative proposed by Johnson – and that the EU had rejected both options.

May mocked the Eurosceptic Corbyn’s embrace of a customs union as “crazy”. But, crucially, the Labour leader’s policy unites his party and does not create a hard Irish border.

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The Prime Minister’s promised “customs partnership”, by contrast, does neither. An awkward and unsettled May could only state that “questions have been raised” and that “further work continues”. And when Corbyn reasonably asked when MPs would get to vote on a customs unions, May was unable to say (Conservative whips having warned her that the government would be defeated).

How, Corbyn concluded, could the cabinet achieve a good agreement for the UK when they couldn’t agree themselves? The problem for May is the same as ever: there is no option which unites the Brexiteers, parliament, the EU and the DUP (the Tories’ political life support machine).

Corbyn goaded the PM to take on the “wild right-wing people” (as Ken Clarke called them). But May, enfeebled by the loss of the Tories’ majority, lacks the capacity to do so. Having once aspired to be a transformative Prime Minister, she has been reduced to Micawberism: hoping “something will turn up”.

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